Construction continues on a Chickasaw Nation casino in Terral, Oklahoma. Photo courtesy Comanche Nation

Comanche Nation sues over last-minute approval of Chickasaw Nation casino

The Comanche Nation is suing the federal government in hopes of stopping the Chickasaw Nation from expanding its gaming empire in Oklahoma.

On January 19, the last full day of the Obama administration, the Bureau of Indian Affairs approved one of the Chickasaw Nation's land-into-trust applications. The decision enabled the tribe to break ground on a $10 million facility in Terral, not far from the Texas border.

But the Comanche Nation claims the decision violates federal law. The BIA failed to conduct a thorough environmental analysis of the acquisition, a condition imposed on nearly every other tribe in the United States, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court last week.

"The United States approved the trust acquisition in Jefferson County without complying with mandatory requirements of the National Environmental Policy act, thereby rendering the acquisition void," the August 18 complaint reads.

The Chickasaw Nation operates nearly two dozen casinos, more than any other tribe in Oklahoma and in the U.S. Most of the facilities are located on lands that were placed in trust after 1988.

Generally, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act bars casinos on land placed in trust after 1988. But an exception in Section 20 of the law allows gaming on properties located within the boundaries a former reservation in Oklahoma.

Indianz.Com on Google Maps: Chickasaw Nation Gaming Facilities

With the help of the BIA, the Chickasaws have repeatedly taken advantage of the exception. Back in 2003, Indianz.Com counted 11 facilities on lands acquired after 1988 and the tribe's empire has only continued to grow.

The tribe enjoys a close relationship with the local and regional BIA offices. In the past, the offices have approved the tribe's land-into-trust applications after less than a month of review. In one instance, it looked like approval only took a day.

The situation is unique to Oklahoma because the exception can be utilized repeatedly for lands within a former reservation. Newly recognized tribes and tribes that were restored to federal recognition in other states are treated differently because they must acquire lands within a certain period of time and even within a certain distance from their aboriginal homelands.

Even in Oklahoma, though, the exception is utilized unevenly. It almost exclusively benefits tribes in the Eastern region of the state, where the Chickasaws are located, according to the lawsuit, to tribal leaders on the Western side and to one key member of Congress.

"There's great inconsistency and, to date, the process is unclear to me," Secretary Ryan Zinke, the leader of the Department of the Interior, said when Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) brought up the issue at a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing on March 8.

Zinke held up the formal announcement of two Chickasaw Nation land-into-trust applications amid those inconsistencies. But the delay, which lasted six months, wasn't much of a concern to the Chickasaws because they broke ground on the casino in Terral in May. The facility is due to open sometime next year.

The Comanche Nation operates the Red River Hotel and Casino about 50 miles from the Terrai site. The tribe also has land about 10 miles away from Terral where it plans to open a casino, according to the lawsuit.

Read More on the Story:
Comanche Nation sues over new Chickasaw casino near Texas border (The Oklahoman August 19, 2017)

Federal Register Notices:
Land Acquisitions; The Chickasaw Nation [Terral Site] (July 18, 2017)
Land Acquisitions; The Chickasaw Nation [Willis Site] (July 18, 2017)

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